Unwise writer, week 5: novel writing 101

I lost a chunk of writing time this week, but all in a good cause as I went to Dublin to attend a workshop at the Irish Writers Centre. Facilitated by  wonderful author Catherine Dunne, it was called Begin Your Novel.


I squeezed in for the second day of a two-day workshop, the first installment of which helped participants solidify novel ideas and gave them practical tools to get going. The second part was structured so that everyone would take turns reading out 1,000-word extracts from what they had produced during the intervening three weeks, and get feedback and advice to help them continue further. The idea is that you learn more from the case studies of other people’s work than any amount of theory.

We were asked in advance to submit a passage that we were particularly stuck on, ie. what we knew to be the worst bit.


It’s a daunting experience to read out work you know is heavily flawed to a roomful of people. It’s also sobering to convey a story idea that seems well rounded in your mind, but sounds like the dullest plot imaginable in an elegant Georgian room at the Irish Writers Centre, ground control for some of Ireland’s finest wordsmiths. There’s a temptation to add explosions and casino heists just to jazz up the blemmin’ thing.

As a result, my head today feels as if it’s been put through a blender. I always feel like this when I go through a critiquing process, and I just have to wait for my thoughts to settle again. Then I’ll be able to pick through everything for helpful bits of information. With a facilitator as focused and vastly experienced as Catherine, it was a veritable gold mine.

The thing is, it’s not so much what anyone else says that gives me the wobbles – the individual feedback I received from both Catherine and the other, very talented writers in the group was helpful and spot on – it’s my own Department of Good Sense telling me , ‘You’re rubbish, it’s rubbish, move along, please.’

At times like this, I’m reminded of the Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” It’s a matter of choosing.

For anyone wanting to write a novel and unsure how to go about it, I can’t recommend this workshop highly enough, should the Irish Writers Centre run it again. It was enlightening, it was time well spent with kindred spirits and it was such a laugh. The details of the one I attended are here.

This week’s word count: 7,557 words this week, with three days lost respectively to travelling, attending and convalescing with a cold compress on a chaise longue. If I’m going to stick to the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month (and I intend to, by Jiminy), I have to write 15,557 in the next eight days. That’s 1,944 words a day, which, coincidentally, is about my average. To get there, I’ll definitely have to minimise my usual distractions [hangs ‘Gone to lunch’ sign on Facebook page].

Read Week 6: computer says NoMoWriMo here


4 thoughts on “Unwise writer, week 5: novel writing 101

  1. […] It’s often part of the narrative arc for a protagonist to have one last, seemingly insurmountable obstacle that threatens to stop them from achieving their goal. In my own true-life drama, my laptop gave up the ghost with four days left of NaNoWriMo, jeopardising my ridiculous/charmingly eccentric novel-writing adventure. This was bad news, especially as I was still catching up after missing three days’ work because of a very useful writing workshop. […]


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